a couple of weeks ago, we got my brother's family Christmas card. it was actually a new year's card, and it is a tangle of grandkids — a six-year-old in a Santa hat, a pensive 18-month-old and a newborn, curled into a ball. grown kids and spouses and spouses-to-be.
my smiling brother, though not in the center, is the centerpiece, the dog — mr. biggles — claims the prime spot on his lap. maybe biggles is trying to escape into the calm my brother is known for from the family mayhem. or maybe, like me, he is thinking: this almost didn't happen just this way.
i have written this post in my head for a year. even gotten permission, which i really rarely do. this post has been very hard to write, what from the remembering.
about how i was coming home from church on a dreary Sunday a year ago and had an unexpected voicemail from my sister. and a missed call from my sister-in-law. both when they knew i would be in church.
first of all, my sister prefers texts. somehow she likes to send me missives when i think: why don't you just pick of the damn phone? my sister-in-law always leaves a message if she can't get me. rarely a text.
so. on that day, a year ago today in fact, i knew something was wrong. thought it was one of my parents. listened to my sister's panicked voice, and she is just not the panicking type — asking me to call her back. i wondered why my brother didn't call.
i dialed the number thinking THIS IS IT, my fingers shaking. and when i heard her voice, she said something unexpected.
it's Gra, she said. he has had a stroke.
Gra is my brother. short for Graham. his whole life his name has been mis-prounounced. whether he was sitting in the first grade or on the bench at an away basketball game in high school, or on the first day in class in college, he was called GRA! as in RAH! It's Gra. Long A. Graham. named for my grandfather and my father. Gra. not GRAY. not GRAH!
four years apart, we have kept an acceptable distance from each other — he the accomplished, me the baby whom no one could figure out. somewhere in the middle is my sister, the bridge to both of us. and here she was, calling, frantic. which she really never is.
when i heard the word i grasped for air. thought at first, honestly: dead. or comatose. and for a split second i imagined my life without him. my family, without him. his family without him. the one who takes care of everything my parents can't. i was 3 again, and he was 7, holding my hand. 12, and he 16, taking me to see the Osmonds. me 21 and he 25, loaning me his camera so i could do a good job on my senior photography project in j-school.
a hundred other pictures in that few seconds.
and then my sister seemed to scream through the phone (which she does not do either — no, that would be me) that i should hand it to my husband, so she could speak to somebody who would not sob back. it was one horrible minute, let me tell you.
i listened to my husband's half of the conversation, understanding that Gra was stable. that was something. but they didn't know more.
what i remember most about coming home that day is running up to my bedroom, throwing myself onto the side of my bed and on my knees pleading with God that he would be ok. i wailed, like my brother had heard me too often in my childhood —when he was embarrassed by my outbreaks, thinking, i imagine, that couldn't he for once have a sister who was normal? and then i breathed deeply, and calmed my self down.
i don't write about Gra much on my blog. mostly because i could never get the story of him right. he loves the Beatles, and has been known to sing their tunes at the top of his lungs when his younger sisters are hiding in the bathroom, listening. or years later on a family holiday weekend with the tribute band. he might love a party, but he loves science more, and he parlayed that interest into medicine, where for the past three decades he has been daily working to save people. and he loves his family even more than that. he would probably take issue with the whole saving people thing, just like my father would. but it is true.
but on jan. 15, 2012, my brother had a stroke and others saved his life. he was just walking up the stairs to get ready for church, and he stumbled, couldn't speak, his face numb, when only minutes before he had been eating cereal. it was that fast.
and his wife Marti knew exactly what was happening when she laid eyes on him. and in those next few minutes, she knew what to do.
a day after the stroke, i drove to the hospital and could barely keep from crying when i saw him sitting up in bed, talking, his speech a little slurred, but fine, really.
"this won't go on the blog," he said, smiling just a bit crooked, and i have honored that, not writing anything about those horrible days until now, and only with his permission. *
"don't sugar-coat it," he says, now, standing at least 25 pounds lighter than on that day last January, and looking 10 years younger than he did then. "it's what happened, but i have recovered well."
indeed. it's pretty much a miracle that he got the treatment that helps heal stroke victims quickly, within an hour of the onset of his symptoms. we don't pretend that his being a physician didn't help. but everyone needs to know if they have a stroke, what is available to them and to have an advocate, like he had in Marti.
my brother is better than fine. he is back at work, helping and trying to heal others. in this year, his son graduated from medical school and got engaged. my parents celebrated 60 years together, my brother toasting them, as any oldest child should. he welcomed a new grandson into his family just a few weeks ago. and on Saturday, he will be present when my parents meet my sister's first grandchild. blessings.
all things he would have missed, if not for the quick thinking of my sister-in-law, and of the many doctors and nurses who worked to make him well.
i know i could have done better by his story. but it's the end that matters most.
Gra will be 60 years old on May 28, but in a lot of ways, Jan. 15 is his birthday. a new start. and he is one year into that new life today.
so happy birthday, brother. i love you so.
* my brother says it's ok to write about his life as long as he gets a percentage of the royalties.
writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.